Ingrid Thursdays: The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

The Film: The Bells of St. Mary’s is technically a sequel to the 1944 Academy Award Best Picture winner, Going My Way, Bells Posterwhich starred Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley, the progressive priest who desires nothing more but the best for the students of the Catholic schools he assists. While this film may be presented as a sequel, it lacks any indication that it is one. Instead, this film functions as a stand-alone film, or perhaps as a prequel to the original film.The Bells of St. Mary’s is almost identical to the original in which it focuses upon Father O’Malley and his influence on a Catholic school that is about to be closed down. Rather than reusing the conventional male superior from Going my Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s introduces Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), the superior who has always treaded on the side of careful leadership until the film’s protagonist steps in. After a few exchanges between the two characters, Bergman’s Sister Mary Benedict begins to see the value of being openly progressive and how it relates to the many troubled children under her care.

The issue with this film is not with its religious or moral content but with the presentation of its material. The film introduces a series of situations, such as boys Ingrid 05fighting, the prospect of acquiring a new building for the school, and developing a future for a troubled young girl, yet the film never truly allows for these instances to become genuine conflicts within the film. Instead, they are trivialized and there is an emphasis that ‘all will turn out well’ demeanor to these issues that insinuate a resolution will ultimately come in the near future. This causes the ‘so what,’ the purpose of the film, to become blatant and obvious. The film’s overall message is spelled out to the viewer and given close to zero subtlety.

Perhaps the main issue with this film falls in that time hasn’t been Ingrid 02so kind to it. While this film was well received when it first was released in theaters, by contemporary standards the film appears stale and almost devoid of any real attempt of achieving a genuine emotional response from its target audience. Instead, the film seems to take its audience for granted, and 70 years later, it seems very obvious that it does.

The Performance: The one silver lining to this film is Ingrid Bergman and this is because she is the sole actor who bothers to The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)show any range in this film. Even with Bing Crosby, his acting is lazy and has a “been there” sort of attitude to it, especially considering he had won the Best Actor Oscar for the same role the previous year. Bergman, in comparison, is a breath of fresh air to an otherwise flat film. Even though her performance is controlled, Bergman is able to interject many moments of expressive emotion that the film needed. As a result, she essentially steals the film from Crosby and makes it her own. The viewer has more of an emotional attachment to her and that is due to Bergman’s acting.

What also makes Ingrid Bergman’s performance a standout in the film falls in that she gave her performance the ability to break outside of the gender boundary and be an individual that firmly stands for what she believes in. She gave her performance Ingrid 01solidarity and not willing to stand down to anyone. Her witty comebacks, whenever she is challenged, goes beyond the script because Bergman’s delivery always puts whomever she is speaking to in their respective place. She self-corrects anyone overstepping themselves, but Bergman is sure to not allow her character to do it in an authoritative manner, but rather as a moral human being. Additionally, she didn’t allow her character’s gender or profession to hinder her from exhibiting passions that ideally would have been a male’s interest at the time, such as the subtlety Bergman gives her character whenever she has the chance to discreetly hint at her love for playing baseball. It also ought to be noted that the film attempts to frame the narrative of Sister Mary’s actions being influenced by Crosby’s character, yet Bergman’s performance eliminates that perception by implying she always had such thoughts and interests, but they had been internalized. Ironically, Bergman’s acting completely contradicts Crosby’s acting by making his character reiterate what the audience has already learned about her. Therefore, his interactions with her are almost meaningless within the film, which caused their on-screen chemistry to appear forced.

Ingrid FightingUndoubtedly the heart of the film is with Bergman, who outshone Crosby with her emotional appreciation for what in life brings to her character’s school. Yet this isn’t enough to save this film from the test of time. Her performance can be appreciated for what it is, but ultimately it is marred by a film whose content and narrative is dated in style and tone.

Performance Rankings:
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Casablanca: 5/5
Anastasia: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
Notorious: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5

Film Rankings:
Casablanca: 5/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
Notorious: 4/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
Anastasia: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5

Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
Casablanca
A Woman Called Golda
Autumn Sonata
Gaslight
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
Anastasia
Cactus Flower
Notorious
Spellbound
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s

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